Sunday December 21st 2014

How To Stop The Silent Treatment

toronto_akiteng-636Question: We got in a heated argument but after realizing that it was about nothing important, I apologized.  We had sex afterwards. Next morning, I woke up and found him already up and about to leave for work. I said good morning but no response. I asked him what was wrong and he said he had an important meeting that morning. At lunch time, I texted him to ask about his meeting but no response. He came home late at bout 11.45 p.m. and headed straight to bed. I followed him and told him if something was bothering him that we should talk about it. He insisted he was tired and wanted to sleep. It’s been 3 days and nights and he hasn’t said anything to me and acts like I do not exist.

I have noticed a pattern throughout our 2.5 year relationship. He completely stops talking to me and I have to apologize even if it wasn’t my fault and beg for him to talk to me. He’s never ever once come to me first. I’m tired of always having to apologize whenever he gives me the silent treatment. I do not know why he does it or how to stop it. Advice please?

The Love Doctor’s Answer: It is not just hard when someone refuses to communicate, it’s frustrating and hurtful.

Silent treatment is passive aggressive behaviour. Passive aggressive people use silent treatment because they can get away with it. If someone physically or verbally abuses you, you can say you did this or said that — and confront them with evidence. Passive aggressive people don’t like any form of direct confrontation so they use silent treatment because it’s easy to deny that they’re “doing” anything. When you confront them, you look like a fool because you have NO evidence.

Secondly, silent treatment is a form of calculated control. As long as there is some sort of pay-off (you getting bothered/hurt, apologize and/or beg) it gives him a sense of power and feeds his ego. It could be something learned from childhood, but as adults, people do it because they can and choose to.

But even more importantly, silent treatment is psychological/emotional abuse whereby the person engaging in silent treatment is holding the other person emotional hostage. By making you feel invisible, unimportant and not valued, he has a psychological and emotional hold on you.

It’s a not a good idea to keep ignoring the behaviour. It may work temporarily but the cycle of abuse will continue. In addition, the frustration, anger and hurt that gets buried ignoring the behaviour will over time undermine the relationship.

It’s best to let him know this has to stop.

Start by calmly expressing how this makes you feel. If you get upset and start blaming, accusing or yelling, you’ve already lost control of the situation — and this will most likely lead to another silent-faceoff. As calmly as possible, let him know the impact his behavior is having on your relationship. You might be surprised that like most people who use silent treatment, he may not even realize how abusive this is.

Next, ask him how he thinks you can act/respond better so that he doesn’t feel the need to go into lockdown mode. Listen to what he says and take responsibility for where you think you might not be doing your best. Discuss how you resolve things better next time you have a disagreement.

Last but not least, let him know you are ready to leave — if you must. Then give it time for change to take place. If it continues with no signs of anything changing, make good on your word and leave. If you say you’ll leave and not follow through, threats of leaving just get incorporated into the “game” and it goes on…

Remember, you can only be controlled or abused to the extent that you are willing to allow it.

Readers' Questions and The Love Doctor's Answers...

20 Responses to “How To Stop The Silent Treatment”

  1. Tikriti says:

    I know what it feels like to be given the silent treatment. I am on the 2nd day of my silent treatment from my wife. Every time it happens which is like every 2 weeks, I ignore it and pretend like it doesn’t bother me but it does. Trying not to focus on her behaviour is so stressful and draining in itself. At my age I definitely don’t need this. It totally sucks.

  2. Sandy says:

    Sometimes when I see that talking only makes things worse, I find it easier to not say anything at all. I don’t see “not talking” as passive aggression or abuse as it is not meant to hurt anyone. I do not support abuse in any way. No reasonable person would.

  3. I hear you… deciding not to talk until you or the other person “cools off” in some circumstances and situation is the best option. But “not talking” for hours or days, or ignoring the existence of someone especially when you know that it negatively affects them (but makes you feel good) is different from saying to someone “I can’t talk to you right now, but we will talk later/tomorrow.”

  4. Charlie says:

    Most people who do silent treatment tend to see things from their own side and not from the other person’s end. A good relationship is about seeing things from both ends.

  5. Katy says:

    My boyfriend is wonderfully loving and caring a lot of the time, but he does this sort of thing a lot. He doesn’t talk to me for days then starts talking like nothing was ever wrong. It makes me feel as if I did something wrong.

  6. Kevin says:

    Silent treatment works because human beings do not want to be alone and isolated.

  7. Carrie says:

    Im in my 6th week of receiving the Silent Treatment from my boyfriend of 3 yrs,he is 52 and I am 42. This is about the 3rd time he has done this. He is a poor communicator and does not like to discuss any problems that have to do with our relationship and when I confront him he gets mad and goes into Silent Treatment Mode. This time, I did not go to him and ask him to please talk to me and lets move on, I wanted to see how long he would pull the Power Play? After the 5th week I said Im done, its over, I am too good of a woman to get this kind of treatment, and I will not stand for it. I prepared a short, to the point letter and put it in his door, that was a week ago. He ran into me at the gym and came up behind me and said “Hi Carrie” in a laughing manner. So childish it made me sick. I am moving on as hard as it is, because when you love someone its very hard to end things, but Im sticking to my decision. At our age, if you dont wake up every morning loving that person more then the day before, bow out……..

  8. Derrick says:

    My ex gave me the silent treatment. I finally decided she’d never change because it was all a game to her. I broke up with her and didn’t contact her and she didn’t contact me.

  9. Me says:

    The silent treatment/cold shouder is very hurtful and can turn the one on the receiving end into an irrational emotional wreck.

  10. alice says:

    These responses are so interesting. My husband used to do the silent treatment to me for days on end. When I acted like i liked it he stopped. That was years ago. We are older now and still have alot of communication problems. Its like why bother? I am disfunctional now. I feel stupid. Cuz now im old and still taking crap

  11. Heather says:

    It is true people who use the silent treatment tend to be passive aggressive. Instead of having an honest, if uncomfortable conversation to find out what’s wrong they prefer to punish with silence. What they don’t know is that they are in some way causing their partners to reject them.

  12. Roza says:

    My boyfriend does the same thing and I can’t confront him view I have no evidence.

  13. Donna says:

    I wish I knew what to do, but I’m reading that all I CAN do is leave if I don’t want to deal with torment. But I feel he is deserving of a loving relationship…but does he think I deserve it?? Does he love me as much or at all?? I’ am very confused and feeling extremely doubtful of my own sanity. I wish I can fix it, but I came this far to learn I cannot. I guess I won’t be that woman that breaks through to him. When do you stop trying? I guess when I realize I am worth more than what he thinks I’m worth…that’s something I clearly have to work on. This hurts so much.

  14. May be it’s how you talk to him that is THE problem.

    Look at your comment for example… “but I’m reading that all I CAN do is leave if I don’t want to deal with torment.”

    But half of the article is about what you can do if you don’t want to just leave.

    See, when you start a conversation or discussion with false accusations, negative statements, criticism etc, people react either by aggressively defending themselves or just refuse to engage with you in an attempt to defuse the situation and avoid a full blown fight (something you might see as giving the silent treatment”).

    And when you follow it with questioning his love for you and acting like you are doing him a favour (“But I feel he is deserving of a loving relationship”), what do you expect?

    I would not be surprised if this guy is the really patient one in this relationship, and keeping his silence is the only thing he can do because he loves you.

    Some guys can be patient like that. Just being honest…

  15. Beth says:

    I disagree. The person I am who does this to me behaves as though he is allergic to resolution. I have tried everything. You can’t presume a man loves you if he with holds any evidence of it from you. I recommend she unilaterally sever the relationship. A woman has every reason to question a mans love if he repeatedly withholds love and affection and actively avoids resolution. I think men who do this should stick to plastic because no person with self esteem or intelligence should tolerate this form of abuse.

  16. You read her comment. She does NOT want to leave him. She loves him and wants things to work… just doesn’t know how.

    Nowhere does she say he “repeatedly withholds love and affection and actively avoids resolution”. I think you are projecting your own personal experience/situation into her experience/situation.

    Cutting off all ties is not the solution to every relationship problem. Personally I think severing a relationship just because it has problems is a cope-out by people who lack the ability to maintain relationships… and there is just too many of them on the internet.

    If Donna wants to try to make her relationship work, that’s HER decision to make.

  17. Greg says:

    Yangki, thank you for understanding the American man’s plight. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. When we express our feelings, we are insensitive and controlling, and when we emotionally shut down to protect ourselves, we are being abusive. You can’t win either way. The woman is always the victim and the man the perpetrator regardless of what she is doing to chip away at his self confidence in the name of helping him change.

  18. I hear what you are saying, Greg. Unfortunately, both genders play the victim card.

    What I was saying to both Donna and Beth is that before you start pointing fingers at the other person, make sure you are blameless. My experience has been that most people do not want to look at themselves because that means that they have to change. It’s easier to try to change someone else than change oneself.

    The irony is that the unhappiest people are those who think they can change another person. They think that if they can change the other person, then everything else would be perfect. Most end up alone or with partners who are there physically but emotionally M.I.A. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.

    I do agree with you on the part about “chipping away at his self confidence in the name of helping him change”. I think women are generally more guilty of this than men are. That said, I’m not interested in taking sides. First, it helps no one. And second, it attracts to this blog bitter men and women with no sense of self-accountability or responsibility. I can’t stand both… and will call it out when I see it, regardless of whether it’s a man or woman.

  19. Danny says:

    This is an amazing article and I’m grateful for all the posts. Now I know I’m not alone and what I have to do.

  20. Jamie says:

    This is a great article! I find men and women do this. In my current relationship I have such a hard time finding where to draw the line when it comes about. Most often it’s self cured but it’s totally uncalled for. I would also like to add, how can a true bond be built if you block out your partner,spouse, husband, wife….

    To thoses giving this keep in mind the people in a relationship with you make a choice to be there, in most cases they want to share in both good and bad times.

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